The rise of the smart meter

electricity monitoring, energy bills, energy efficiency, smart meters The use of smart meters in households looks to be taking off around the world. However, despite the advantages of the technology, there also exist pitfalls which could temper enthusiasm in the equipment.

Smart meters can provide real time electricity monitoring and send electricity consumption data direct to utilities. They eliminate the need for utility employees to visit customers’ homes, can reduce power usage during peak hours and make the conservation of energy easier for households.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) in Japan has plans to install around 17 million smart meters in homes in Japan by March 2019 in an attempt to increase energy efficiency. TEPCO, which is the operator of the damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima, is to accept bids for the contract, which will ultimately represent an investment of around 200 billion yen ($2.6 billion).

Similarly an effort is underway in the UK. According to a survey conducted by UK energy supplier British Gas, 64 percent of customers using smart meters have made improvements to their energy efficiency. The survey also revealed that the installation of a smart meter led 80 percent of households to rethink their energy consumption. British Gas has already installed 400,000 smart meters in homes, and has plans in place to install a further one million.

Tom Hargreaves, a smart meter expert from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, commented:  “This report shows that UK energy users want smart meters and they are using them regularly to help save money and change their energy habits.”

100 percent smart meter coverage, concerns

The UK government is aiming for every home and business to be fitted with a smart meter by 2019, which would require the replacement of around 53 million gas and electricity meters. However, there is mounting concern, at least in the UK, that even though smart meters can reduce energy use, there is no guarantee that this saving will be passed on to consumers.

Consumers will have to pay suppliers for the costs of installing and operating smart meters through their energy bills and no transparent mechanism presently exists for ensuring that savings to the supplier are passed on. The track record of energy companies to date does not inspire confidence that this will happen” said MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the public administration committee. “The government is relying on competition in the market to drive down prices. But, as has been previously reported by Ofgem [the government regulator], the energy market does not currently operate as an effective competitive market” she added.

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